I am recently finishing up an interesting book I wanted to recommend to those interested in the topic of Antinomianism. Mark Jones has written an excellent historical and theological analysis of the subject in his book “Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?”
The most significant take away of the book is how the Antinomian view of sanctification claims a high Christology in regards to God’s grace and justification by faith alone yet falls desperately short of the Christo-centric approach to which they claim to hold.
Read it for yourself, and be challenged by its conclusion that justification by faith alone in no way does away with the reality of a grace-fueled sanctification of a faith that works hard to kill indwelling sin and obey God.
9 Marks of a Healthy Church was published by Crossway and written by Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Bapist, Washington D. C., and the executive director of 9 Marks ministries.
Perhaps one of the more troubling facts regarding the current state of most evangelical churches in America is the dire state of their overall spiritual health. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I am a late comer to Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. Not only do I verge on shame, I’m actually twinged with regret as I have no doubt that Dever’s words of wisdom would have strengthened my many weaknesses and failings in my previous pastoral posts had I read his work earlier.
Dever has accomplished much for the church with this book. Rather than sit on the sidelines in perplexity at the problems facing too many churches, Dever challenges us to contemplate and (re)commit ourselves to nine of the most fundamental catalysts for church health. While so many things could be said of this book, I will limit our discussion to a brief summary of each of the nine marks:
1. Expositional preaching: This is the supreme mark of a healthy church. God brings spiritual life through the expositional preaching of His word. Expository preaching is preaching that draws its main point from the main point of a particular passage.
2. Biblical theology: A healthy church has a biblical understanding of God’s character and ways. Dever summarized the main thrust of the Bible’s teaching on God when he noted, “that He is creating; that He is holy; that He is faithful; that He is loving; and that He is sovereign” (p.60).
3. The Gospel: A healthy church recognizes the centraility of the work of Christ (death, burial, resurrection) for all those who would repent of sin and believe in His atoning sacrifice. This repentance and believe is not simply out of tradition but actually changes the way the believer lives. True repentance and faith is not just a one time thing but is a lifelong characteristic of the believer.
4. A biblical understanding of conversion: A healthy church understands that conversion is an act of God. Just as no one can “born themselves” physically, neither can a person be born again spiritually without the initiating and efficacious working of the God the Holy Spirit.
5. A biblical understanding of evangelism: A healthy church is actively evangelistic, but not necessarily in a programmed sort of way. Rather, evangelism is the natural overflow of Christian worship and fellowship. Simply put, the church is the evangelistic program.
6. A biblical understanding of church membership: A healthy church emphasizes and requires faithful membership for the sake of purity, accountability, and mutual edification.
7. Biblical church discipline: A healthy church disciplines blatanly sinning members for the sake of the sinner, the ones offended (other believers and God), and the unbelieving world.
8. A concern for discipleship and growth: A healthy church disciples new believers, as well as more mature believers, with the word of God and in mutual accountability around God’s word, most easily done through covenanting together around a common statement of believe such as a church covenant.
9. Biblical church leadership: A healthy church seeks out leaders based not on secular qualifications but on biblical qualifications of godly character and trustworthiness. Both pastors and congregations will be held accountable for what is being taught from the pulpit.
May the Lord continually purify His church and may His church continually submit to His sanctfiying work so that every local body of Christ will be spiritually healthy for God’s glory.
The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, written by Michael Reeves, the Theological Advisor for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. Reeves has written a concise and comedic history of the sixteenth-century Reformation. To use the adjectives “concise” and “comedic” to describe a history book may seem oxymoronic, but both words fit the bill. Not only this, Reeves’ account is accurate, balanced, and thoughtful.
Space would not allow for sharing all of the most significant points that this little book brings to light, but I must note at least the following four:
1) The Reformers, while far from perfect in a variety of ways, risked all for the sake of returning the Church to a biblical understanding of the gospel: grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, God’s glory alone.
2) Opponents of the gospel hate God’s word. The Roman Catholic Church and its devotees feared the translation of God’s word into “common” languages more than anything else because they knew it would lead to the questioning of their authority regarding church tradition and popish dogma. We can find a correlation with today. Today, many professing Christians hate the expositional preaching of God’s word either out of fear or flat out boredom. Those that fear it do so because it challenges their traditions and preconceived notions of God, not to mention that it brings them face to face with some of the most difficult texts in Scripture such as, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt.24:13); and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him.” (John 6:44). Those that find it boring usually do so because they want their flesh fed (John 6:25-27) or are simply indifferent (1 Cor. 2:14).
3) The heart of the Reformation was not political but religious. Now admitedly, the radical fringes were quite political, and even the mainstream reformers found themselves inextricably intertwnined in political issues. The heart of the Luthers, Calvins, and Zwinglis, however, was one of religious intent. For the likes of these, the Reformation was about the truth of salvation.
4) Related to the previous point, the heart of the Reformation was justification by faith alone. If all other things could be agreed upon, yet it remains that the marked difference between Catholic and Protestant was and is the doctrine of justification by faith. Luther said, “Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed.” because it is the belief “on which the church stands or falls”. Reeves concurs, “Justification was what made the Reformation the Reformation.” (p.176). It is here that the line must be drawn and maintained. For the Catholic, justification by faith is the process of becoming more holy and thus becoming more worthy of salvation. For Reformers, justification by faith is the declaration of God that the sinner, whille still a sinner, has been given the righteousness of Christ. The argument may seem to be a mere wrangling over words, and at one level that is true; but it is so much more than that. What is at stake when one wrangles with these hot-bed words? The gospel itself. The Catholic side says one must develop a righteousness, with God’s help, that will result in salvation. The Reformer says one must simply receive the righteousness of Christ by God’s grace through faith in Christ, which results in salvation.
In conclusion, we must ask with Reeves and many other contemporary figures, “Is the Reformation over? Reeves, and I with him, give a resounding, “NO!” As long as the enemy continues to lead so many (including Protestants) into the error of thinking that the sinner can muster up a righteousness of his own in order to obtain salvation, the Reformation must continue to cry, “Solus Christus!”